10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Rome
Today's tourists have the ancient and modern Romans to thank for the many attractions around Rome. The nobility of ancient Rome fled the city in the heat of summer to enjoy the sea breezes of Tivoli and the cooler air in the Alban Hills, building lavish villas set in extensive parks and gardens. Emperors and cardinals followed their lead, as did popes and wealthy merchants. Emperor Hadrian outdid his contemporaries by creating an entire town inside his gardens at Ostia, replicating ancient wonders he had seen. Along with the villas and gardens, tourists come to the Alban Hills for their castles, known as the Castelli Romani, and for the great Benedictine Monasteries in Subiaco.
1 Ostia Antica
Founded about the fourth century BC, Ostia was Ancient Rome's port and the main naval base of the Roman Empire. Next to Pompeii, Ostia is the largest excavated Roman city, and gives a good picture of urban life in Imperial Rome. The main places to see are the intricate mosaic floors of the Baths of Neptune, the semicircular theater, the Capitolium, Forum, Decumanus Maximus, the well-preserved Thermopolium, the bakery, the Grandi Horrea, (grain storage building), several temples, apartment blocks, and houses with gardens and well-preserved marble floors. Near the excavations' main entrance are rows of tombs, some of which are quite impressive. The site's Archaeological Museum displays some of the statuary and artifacts found during excavations.
Address: Viale dei Romagnoli 717, Ostia Antica
During the Roman Empire, the Emperor Augustus and his nobility escaped the city's summer heat at their villas in Tivoli, in the nearby Sabine Hills. Two major attractions are well worth the trip from Rome: Hadrian's Villa and the gardens of Villa d'Este. Hadrian's splendid estate included an entire complex of buildings set in gardens, where he tried to replicate some of the great sights he'd seen in his extensive travels. You'll see ruins (and a few reconstructions) of buildings based on the best of Greek and Egyptian architecture, all set in beautiful gardens. Villa d'Este Gardens have inspired later gardens throughout Europe and are considered the epitome of Italianate gardens. A whole series of gardens are filled with fountains, pools, cascades, and other water features, along with grottos, pavilions, and terraces. Set on a hillside, the gardens frame lovely views of the Campagna countryside. The Villa d'Este palace is known for its painted ceilings and spiral staircase.
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- 8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Tivoli
3 Subiaco's Benedictine Monasteries
The little hill town of Subiaco, 70 kilometers east of Rome, is dominated by an 11th-century castle, but its main fame is two Benedictine monasteries founded by St. Benedict in the early sixth century. The oldest part of the large monastery of Santa Scolastica existing today is the campanile from a second monastery built here in 1052. It was later rebuilt in Gothic style and again in 1235, a third was built with a Romanesque cloister and mosaic decoration. The buildings are arranged around three cloisters: the oldest from the 12-13th centuries, the second in the Gothic style dating to the 14th-15th centuries, and a third from the late 16th century in Renaissance style. Quite different from all of these is the late-18th-century abbey church in Neoclassical style. Seeking more solitude, St. Benedict retired to nearby caves, where another monastery was founded by the monks who followed him there. Sacro Speco, St. Benedict's hermitage is built against a sheer cliff in a magnificent, lonely mountain setting a few kilometers from Santa Scolastica. The maze of small chapels and monks' cells are carved into the rock and covered in frescoes that date as far back as the eighth century. One of these is the only known portrait of St. Francis of Assisi painted during his lifetime when he retreated to Subiaco.
4 Frascati Villas
About 20 kilometers southeast of Rome, Frascati is the most important of the Castelli Romani, the castle towns of the Alban Hills. It is still a popular summer resort for Romans, and is best known for its beautiful villas belonging to old noble families. Most of these date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are set in magnificent parks and gardens. The focal point of Frascati is Piazza Roma with the adjoining Piazza Marconi, south of which are the gardens of Villa Torlonia. Above the southeast side of Piazza Marconi, Villa Aldobrandini is set in an impressive terraced park with extensive views, grottoes, fountains, and cascades. The wide Teatro delle Acque is the main fountain, with stairs curving in terraces around a series of cascading fountains. Just out of the center of Frascati, to the east, you'll find the picturesque park of the Villa Falconieri, which was redesigned by Borromini in 1545-48. These gardens also have a Teatro delle Acque, similar to the nymphaea popular with ancient Romans, decorated with statues and artificial caves.
From Frascati a panoramic road winds its way uphill through beautiful scenery and areas of forest to the remains of ancient Tusculum. A favorite resort of Cicero, Tusculum was the birthplace of Cato the Elder. It was destroyed by Rome in 1191, and its ruins are atmospherically overgrown and include an amphitheater, a theater, the forum, a well-house, and a stretch of the old town walls. Above is a ruined castle with commanding views.
6 Lago di Albano
The beautiful crater lake, about three-and-a-half kilometers long and two kilometers wide, has been kept at an even level ever since Roman engineers built a tunnel/canal in 397 BC to drain off water above a certain depth. The shores are a popular summer retreat for Romans, including the Popes, who have traditionally come to their summer palace, Castel Gandolfo, perched on the rim of the lake. While you cannot visit the palace itself, its spacious parterre gardens are, at the discretion of the current Pope, open for tours reserved in advance through the Vatican website. The portion open for tours is built on the still visible first-century ruins of Emperor Domitian's country palace.
7 Abbazia Greca di Grottaferrata
The old abbey of the Basilians (a Greek Catholic order) at Grottaferrata was described by Pope Leo XIII at the end of the 19th century as "a jewel from the East in the Papal tiara." The old religious house has some notable works of art - Bernini designed the Iconostasis -- but it is also a good example of Renaissance defensive architecture. The mosaic floors are the original 13th-century work of the Cosmati family of artists, and be sure to see the inlaid wooden choir stalls. The baptismal font in the narthex is a ninth-century Byzantine work. The nearby catacomb, with about 1,000 tombs from the second to fifth centuries, is open on Sundays.
Address: Corso del Popolo 128, Grottaferrata
8 Ienne and Monte Autore
In the beautiful valley of the river Aniene, beyond the monastery of San Benedetto, lies the little town of Ienne. About 12 kilometers from here, the village of Vallepietra sits in a cirque on the southeast side of Monte Autore. A two-hour climb takes you to the foot of a 300-meter vertical rock face, where the Santuario della Santissima Trinità has 12th-century frescoes. From here, you can take a guided climb to the 1,853-meter summit, the second highest in the Monti Simbruini, with magnificent panoramic views.
9 Etruscan Sites of Tarquinia and Cerite
An outstanding Etruscan Necropolis and two Etruscan museums are worth a day trip north along the Tyrrhenian coast. Just outside the medieval hill town of Tarquinia are the scant remains of ancient Tarquinii, the most notable of the 12 cities of the Etruscan federation. But around the old town extends the necropolis, one of the best preserved of Etruscan cemeteries. A tour of the tombs takes from one-and-a-half to five hours, depending on your level of interest (and endurance). The splendid painted decoration of the tombs hewn from solid rock gives a picture of Etruscan culture, art, and religion. In town, the magnificent Gothic/Romanesque Palazzo Vitelleschi houses the important collections of the Museo Nazionale Tarquiniense, including Etruscan sarcophagi, vases, jewelry, glass, carved ivories, coins, and fragments of large decorative reliefs. Notice the terracotta statues of two winged horses from the fourth or third centuries BC and the magnificent wall-paintings from the fifth-century BC Tomba del Triclinio.
The Museo Nazionale Archeologico Cerite is inside near Cerite's 13th-century castle. The collection of tomb furnishings and ornaments from the first millennium BC is outstanding and complements what you'll see in Tarquinia. The earliest is from the Sorbo necropolis: urns and ceramic ware, helmets, bowls, fibulae, and spindle-shaped ornaments, bronzes, and armor. Finds from the later period, excavated from the Monte Abatone necropolis include very rare early bucchero ware made by the 7th-century BC ceramics masters of Caere. This remarkable collection of exquisite thin-walled black vessels alone is worth the trip.
10 Catacombs of Priscilla
This set of catacombs north of Rome, near the Tangenziale Est circumferential highway, are believed to be named after Priscilla, who became a Christian and was killed on the orders of Domitian. The catacombs contain a number of wall paintings showing saints and early Christian symbols. The Greek Chapel is a square chamber with an arch on which second-century frescoes of Old and New Testament scenes are well preserved. Above the apse is a Last Judgment; this and nearby images of the Virgin and Child and the Prophet Isaiah date from the second century. The catacombs lie at the edge of a large wooded park with Roman ruins.
Address: Via Salaria Nuova 430, Rome